There is a part of me that is actually quite silly. A part I had almost forgotten about. It used to come out often, when I was younger -- in high school and college. Even when Sammy and I were partners, before all the shit hit the fan, the fun side of me used to surface. Filling Sammy's car with birds -- now that was one for the record. Or duct taping his locker closed when he was in the shower, just a few minutes before roll call. Priceless. And I used to enjoy using my ability with a variety of amusing facial expressions and "cartoon character voices" to entertain friends and acquaintances quite often, back in the "old days."
As I spent more time with Ashaki, this silly part of my began to re-emerge. I could have her literally doubled over in laughter if I raised my eyebrows in a certain way or talked in what I call my "scooby-doo" voice. And I can't lie. It pleased me to no end to be able to make her smile and laugh with what seemed like very little effort. And her smile and her laughter caused me to smile and laugh, in turn.
Time went on. Ashaki and I spent as much time together as possible, though in socially acceptable ways. Her family would have me over for meals quite often. And then she and I would walk together at sunset, across the little valley and over the small hills, talking of many things -- our educations, literature, music, art, politics, religion, philosophy. Did we agree on everything? Most definitely not. As I mentioned before, Ashaki has a strong faith in God. In a God who actually loves us. I have a harder time with that. Also, she finds modern art "irksome" and "hard on the nervous system." I, on the other hand, have a storage unit full of the stuff back in L.A. (My modern art collection is the one thing that I did not dispose of before coming to Africa. Well, along with the pills. The pills that I now knew I would never use.) Ashaki told me, grinning mischievously, "We will have to make a bonfire of that 'art' of yours, if we ever have the opportunity." Often, we would not be alone on our walks. The children and young people of the village frequently accompanied us. And the teenagers enjoyed joining our conversations, and we enjoyed their input. I did not feel as though my time with Ashaki was intruded upon by the "company" we had on our evening sojourns. I reveled in the presence of all these people. And seeing Ashaki with them only made me come to appreciate her more. I was falling in love with her, though I didn't want to admit it to myself.
Why didn't I want to admit it to myself? If I admitted it to myself, I would have had to think about the dreaded "m" word -- marriage. There was no way Ashaki and I could live together without being married, not in this place. And neither of us wanted to leave this place. Also, to tell you the truth, I don't think she would have consented to that arrangement, anyway. Not that she was a prude, or anything. She was raised for a good part of her life in England. She had gone to university there. She was a beautiful woman. There had been men. She never really spoke of them, but I knew there had been boyfriends. In her move back to her homeland, though, in the way she valued the traditional culture of her people, I knew where her heart really stood. She was the kind of woman who would want commitment -- as in the dreaded "m" word -- before moving in with a man. She also wanted children. She didn't speak of it that often, probably because she didn't want to scare me off, but she would occasionally mention her desire for children. Four or five of them, she would teasingly say, with a rather whistful look in her eye. And I would watch her cuddle the babies of the village. I would watch her chase the toddlers. And I knew she wanted little ones of her own. And I knew she would be a beautiful mother. The best kind of mother. But, I wasn't convinced I could be any kind of a good father. I mean, I loved our students. I loved the children of my new home. But, that was a completely different thing than having my own kids. The thought of having my own kids, my own wife, my own family? Well, the idea of those things pretty much completely freaked me out.
So, I just avoided thinking about the future. I also avoided thinking about sex. When it got difficult to avoid thinking about sex, I would go for a good 5-mile run in the heat. That would solve my problem, at least for a little while. I just struggled to stay in the present. I just tried to enjoy being with Ashaki without having a physical relationship, without thinking about the dreaded "m" word. And I was fairly successful.
Until I was given a little "talking to" one day by Ashaki's brother. This young man was not quite as bright as his sister, but he was pretty smart. And his English was very good, as he had spent a lot of time with some missionary priests as he was growing up.
He asked me if I wanted to have a beer. Yes, there was beer. Courtesy of some friends of Ashaki, who sent it over from Europe on a regular basis. It was late afternoon on a day when school wasn't in session. We sat in the shade and "chewed the fat" for a while. And then he dropped it on me. The bomb. "You know she cries every night," he told me. "She's been crying every night for at least a month."
"What? Who cries?" I asked him, rather taken aback.
"Ashaki," he answered. And he looked at me carefully, and then he continued. "Finally, I asked her what was wrong. At first, I tried to leave her be. Thought it was a passing thing. You know how women are. But, it did not pass. So, I went and spoke to her one night, as she was crying. I asked her to tell me the cause of her sadness. She didn't want to, but I persisted. Got the truth out of her. And the truth, Ben, is that she loves you. She told me that she thought you loved her, too, but now she's starting to wonder. Because, basically, you haven't 'made your move.' You haven't said anything to her about how you feel. You haven't said if you feel anything at all. And she doesn't know what to think. Or do. And she can't bear the thought of losing you. So, my man, it's time to 'take a stand,' if you will. Do you love her, or not? It's fine if you don't. My sister deserves the best, deserves someone who truly wants her. So, if you don't want to be with her, then speak up. But, if you do love her, it's time to say it. And, frankly, you've had plenty of time to make up your mind."
"I do love her," I told him, my voice barely above a whisper. "More than anything. More than anybody. But, you know man, there are things. Things about myself, my past. If she really knew everything about me, everything there is to know... Well, I don't know if she'd love me so much, anymore. She loves the "me" that she has gotten to know here. She didn't know me before. She doesn't know what I was like. She doesn't know what I'm capable of -- the bad things, the evil things I've done. The things I did when I was a cop. The things I rationalized."
"If she knew those things and still loved you, what would you want?" Ashaki's brother gently prodded.
I didn't answer immediately. I couldn't imagine somebody knowing my past -- really knowing it -- and still loving me, still wanting to be my wife. So, I didn't quite know what to say. After a few moments, though, I replied, "If she still loved me, then I would want her to be with me always. I would want to marry her. But, I'm scared to tell her. I'm scared to lose -- not only her -- but everything beautiful that my life has come to hold here."
"You need to talk to her, Ben," the brother of the woman I love said to me quietly. "You need to trust her. You CAN trust her. This I know."
After a rather sleepless night, I walked -- rather slowly -- to Ashaki's home in the early morning sunlight. She was standing in the doorway when I got there. Perhaps she had been expecting me? And she looked so strong, and yet so vulnerable, as she gazed up at me with those eyes. Those eyes which seemed to hold an infinity in their dark depths. I hoped the infinity they held would be one of happiness -- for both of us.
And so we talked. And, between this woman and I, there were no more secrets...
To be continued...